L.A. Takes Big Step Toward Plastic Bag Ban

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, City News Service

Plastic grocery bags would become a thing of the past in Los Angeles under an ordinance tentatively approved Tuesday that would make the city the largest in the nation to enact such a ban.

If given final approval by the Los Angeles City Council, the ordinance would take effect Jan. 1 for large stores, and six months later for smaller stores.

The council voted 11-1 in support of the ban, with Councilman Bernard Parks casting the lone dissenting vote. Since it failed to receive the 12 votes needed to be passed outright, the ordinance will require a second vote next week.

Customers would be required to provide their own re-usable bags when they visit stores, or pay 10 cents each for paper bags.

Proponents said a plastic bag ban would lead to cleaner beaches, storm drains, rivers and other public spaces that tend to become the final resting places for the non-biodegradable bags. Representatives for plastics companies countered that it would cost jobs, while other opponents contend that reusable bags are prone to germs and could pose a health risk.

The city would hand out 1 million reusable bags in low-income areas, and WIC recipients, mothers who receive assistance to purchase food, would be exempted from the ban.

Officials said the city spends $2 million a year to clean up plastic bag litter, and the implementation of a ban would result in the loss of 15 jobs at companies within the city.

The law is similar to one adopted by county of Los Angeles. Other cities in California, such as San Francisco and Santa Monica, also have plastic bag bans in place.

A statewide ban proposed by a former city councilman, Alex Padilla, was defeated during a Senate vote last month.

City officials and environmental groups hailed the Los Angeles City Council’s action, saying their next goal is to restart efforts for a statewide ban on plastic bag use.

“With today’s action, one quarter of California’s population is covered under a single-use bag ordinance,” said Kirsten James of Heal the Bay, an environmental group that organizes beach litter cleanups.

“If this doesn’t send a signal to Sacramento, then I don’t know what will,” she said, noting that Los Angeles would be the “largest city in the nation to tackle the wasteful and environmentally impactful single-use bags.”

“Hopefully this vote today will encourage the state to take an affirmative vote in the future to ban plastic bags in those areas that have the most impact on our environment,” said Councilman Jose Huizar, who chairs the Energy and Environment Committee, which recommended that the full council approve the ban.

Council President Herb Wesson, former speaker of the state Assembly, compared state legislation to a “vampire,” and promised the issue will “come back to life.”

Padilla called the vote “transformative” and agreed it would give “tremendous momentum to our efforts in Sacramento.”

“Each year, two billion single use plastic bags are used in Los Angeles,” he said. “After they are discarded, they can be found in our trees, our gutters, our creeks and rivers and along our coastline.”

The ban would take effect on Jan. 1, for large stores that make more than $2 million a year or are housed in retail space covering more than 10,000 square feet; and on July 1, 2014, for smaller stores that carry a limited selection of grocery products such as milk, bread, soda and snack foods, as well as those with beer, wine and hard liquor licenses.

Proceeds from the 10-cent charge for recyclable paper bags would be kept by stores and used only to recoup the costs of the bags and comply with the city ban, as well as on educational materials to promote reusable bag use.

Stores would need to file quarterly reports on the number of paper bags given out, how much money the store receives for those bags and their efforts to encourage use of reusable bags.

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June 20, 2013  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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